Source: Catholic Outlook, October 2016
By Elizabeth McFarlane and Jordan Grantham
A number of decades ago, a South American priest on a study tour in Germany visited the international headquarters of Aid to the Church in Need. This priest went on to become a bishop, whose diocese received support for aid projects from Aid to the Church in Need.
Today, that priest is Pope Francis and he continues to hold Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) close to his heart.
Philipp Ozores is ACN’s new Secretary General and on a recent visit to Australia he shared his experience of Pope Francis’ support with Catholic Outlook.
In a private audience in June, the Holy Father agreed to film a message supporting ACN’s Year of Mercy campaign. “The Pope said … let’s just do it now. So Fr Hans Stapel (ACN Brazil’s President) pulled out his iPhone and the Holy Father recorded a message off the cuff,” Philipp said.
Prior to becoming Secretary General of ACN, Philipp Ozores was Assistant to the Chief Financial Officer for the Order of Malta’s massive operations in Cologne, which is perceived in Germany as “like the Red Cross in a Catholic way”.
Aid to the Church in Need is now the Church’s largest pastoral charity, annually receiving the equivalent of $A175 million for aid projects, primarily for the poor and persecuted Church around the world.
Iraq, India, Ukraine and Syria were the top four countries to receive aid in 2015, according to ACN’s annual report. Support for Middle Eastern countries increased significantly in response to the chaos of the ‘Arab Spring’ and violence of ISIS.
Aid to the Church in Need provides support around the world, traditionally focussing on the pastoral needs of the Church in Eastern Europe and the developing world.
“Now we have added a lot of humanitarian help for persecuted Christians, mainly in the Middle East,” Philipp said.
Relief funds go towards a range of needs, including but not limited to, “food, this was also a lot of money for rent, building cheap houses, schools”.
Aid to the Church in Need’s response to this new crisis has taken the organisation back to its roots. Post-WWII, many German Catholics fled Soviet-occupied areas in Eastern Europe.
“The charity was born as funding emergency help for German refugees after WWII,” Philipp said. “But it quickly turned into focusing on the needs of the Church, wherever she was persecuted.”
The broad nature of ACN’s support means that, in practice, funds are not limited to Christians, such as in refugee camps.
Aid to the Church in Need’s approach is to support local projects through the existing structures of the local Church. This saves money and uses local expertise.
Last year, 6200 projects were funded, an increase on the 5600 projects funded in the previous year.
“The standard in ACN’s program is very hands on for pastoral needs. But it also could be very specific – it could be a car for a priest, it could be building or renovating a church or chapel,” Philipp said.
The Australian Office of Aid to the Church in Need has one of the network’s most efficient fundraising operations. It is led by the National Director, Phillip Collignon, who manages the operations from an office located in Seven Hills.
Aid to the Church in Need Australia raises about $4 million each year, from 10,000 benefactors.
The Mirror is ACN’s newsletter and it is the main fundraising tool. Stories about the varied projects and incredible challenges of Catholics across the globe regularly engage readers.
Another successful ACN publication is its Child’s Bible, which is the most successful Catholic child’s Bible in the world. It has been printed more than 51 million times and translated into more than 176 languages.
Sometimes, the Child’s Bible is the only printed text in a local language. An example is in Zambia, where the Child’s Bible is one of very few printed texts in the Mambwe language.
For World Youth Day Krakow this year, ACN launched the app version of DOCAT, the new youth catechism on Catholic Social Teaching. It aims to energise a million young Catholics in building a more just and compassionate society. The book was free to download.
The DOCAT app includes a quiz after each section and links to Facebook forums for further questions. This takes ACN’s mission into the era of social media and engages a new generation in their vital aid work.
To support the work of ACN, click here or contact the office tel (02) 9679 1929.
To watch Pope Francis’ message of support to DOCAT, click here.
To watch Pope Francis’ message of support for ACN’s Year of Mercy Campaign, click here.